What is 3D printing in healthcare?
The medical industry is known to be most advanced in the way in which new treatments and methods have been developed. Not to mention the technologies that drives all of this forward. There has been no shortage of miracles and that continues to happen. Now 3D printing in healthcare is coming as well.
One of the ways in which the medical industry has been improved and enhanced is through the use of 3D printers. 3D printing in healthcare makes it possible for medical professionals to provide patients with a new form of treatment in a number of ways. 3D printing is creating an enormous opportunity for the medical industry. According to a report by market research firm, SmarTech Analysis, the market for medical 3D printing is currently estimated to be worth $1.25 billion. By 2027, the market value is set to grow to $6.08 billion. Clearly, the potential for 3D printing within healthcare is huge.
How is 3D printing impacting healthcare?
3D printing is used for the development of new surgical cutting and drill guides, prosthetics as well as the creation of patient-specific replicas of bones, organs, and blood vessels.
3D bio-printing is used to create living human cells or tissue for use in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. Organovo and Envision TEC are the pioneers of this technology. 3D printing is also used to manufacture precision and personalized pharmaceuticals. Aprecia Pharmaceuticals’ Sprit am for epilepsy is the first and only FDA approved 3D printed drug.
Recent advances of 3D printing in healthcare have led to lighter, stronger and safer products, reduced lead times and lower costs. Custom parts can be tailored to each individual. This improves the understanding of patients by medical professionals and improves patient comfort level by allowing interaction with products that are designed especially for their anatomy.
How are 3D printers being used in hospitals?
The medical industry has become a big user of 3D printing/additive manufacturing. In hospitals, 3D printers serve a number of applications.
1. Bio-printing Tissues and Organs
3D bio-printing has emerged as a promising new approach for fabricating complex biological constructs in the field of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. It aims to alleviate the hurdles of conventional tissue engineering methods by precise and controlled layer-by-layer assembly of bio-materials in a desired 3D pattern. The 3D bio-printing of cells, tissues, and organs Collection at Scientific Reports brings together a myriad of studies portraying the capabilities of different bioprinting modalities. This Collection amalgamates research aimed at 3D bio-printing organs for fulfilling demands of organ shortage, cell patterning for better tissue fabrication, and building better disease models.
2.Anatomical Models for Surgical Preparation
The individual variances and complexities of the human body make the use of 3D-printed models ideal for surgical preparation. Having a tangible model of a patient’s anatomy available for a physician to study or use to simulate surgery is preferable to relying solely on MRI or CT scans, which aren’t as instructive since they are viewed in 2D on a flat screen. The use of 3D-printed models for surgical training is also preferable to training on cadavers, which present problems with respect to availability and cost. Cadavers also often lack the appropriate pathology, so they provide more of a lesson in anatomy than a representation of a surgical patient.
Now, with 3D printing, surgeons can use precise replicas of patient anatomy and plan detailed surgeries. If a surgery is complex, these models are used to practice every detail of a surgery first. The result is usually faster surgeries, better surgical results, and better patient recovery.
Dentistry has been a big user of 3D printing for some time now, from invisible braces to specific surgeries for upper and lower jaws. According to a 2018 report from SmarTech Publishing, the use of 3D printing in this industry grew by more than 35% for the second year in a row, and will continue to grow in the coming years. Here are a few examples of the use of 3D printing in dentistry.
A popular alternative to complex and manual placement of traditional dental braces, clear aligners offer patients a more aesthetically pleasing and easily maintained orthodontic treatment. Customers such as Missouri-based DynaFlex and Malaga-based Ortoplus are increasingly seeking more cost-effective and efficient approaches to compete in the clear aligner market – currently experiencing annual growth of about 17.5%. High-speed, production-grade 3D printers alongside digital production processes are often critical to lowering barriers-to-entry.
4. Custom medical devices
A number of 3D printing vendors have developed materials that enable medical device manufacturers to make custom medical instruments and devices.
5. Orthotics and prosthetics
Not only is 3D printing used to develop custom orthotics, it is also used to customize limb sockets and to develop exoskeletons that could help paralyzed patients walk again.
In terms of customization and cost-efficiency, conventional production methods like casting, molding, modeling and milling quickly reach their limits. Additive manufacturing offers maximum benefits for patients and manufacturers. The manufacturing process is based on individual scan data for each patient, meaning that 3D-printed prostheses and orthoses are optimally tailored to the anatomy and requirements of the wearer.
3D printing is also used to help doctors research the nature of disease through three-dimensional models of molecular structures.
Those are really just the highlights of how hospitals and the medical industry in general are using 3D printing. As doctors and researchers become more comfortable with the technology, more applications will emerge.
Role of 3D Printing for COVID-19
Since the COVID-19 is a pandemic issue, to detect SARS-CoV-2 infection during early stages, the nasopharyngeal (NP) swab is an urgent equipment to collect nasal epithelial mucosa for testing. Currently, the demand for the nasopharyngeal swabs is unpredictably increasing, and with the help of 3D printing, immediate mass production for new swabs can be made.
Medical face shields have been become a trendy PPE to fabricate especially for healthcare workers. Face/eye protection demands more attention for the issues associated with severe infectious agents since the face is the most commonly exposed part of the body. Although wearing a surgical face mask might ensure protection from a distance between healthcare workers and patients who are diagnosed with COVID-19, additional PPE would be a necessity. 3D printing is sufficient to overcome the high demand for PPE. Because of this reason, different concept designs for face shield products are produced by additive manufacturing. In the additive manufacturing process for face shields, biodegradable thermoplastic polymer/polylactic acid (PLA)–based material is used.
Currently, there are two types of focus in PPE, which are barrier PPE and filtering PPE. Since COVID-19 outbreak happened so quickly, the whole world needs both types immediately.
Related some researchers are described in detail below in subheadings.
A) Personal Protective Equipment(PPE)
Minimizing the transmission of the virus from person to person depends on the effective use of personal protective equipment such as face and respirator masks, air-purifying respirators and face shields.
Medical staffs are working with great pressure increasing day by day since the alarming increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, not to mention virus mutations. One of the most important issues is the required number of medical equipment stock such as ventilators or face shields is inadequate because of the high demand and general disruptions to the global supply chain . Protection of healthcare workers is a significant issue, especially during the treatment of COVID-19 patients, since their risk of being exposed to disease is too high. Healthcare workers are obliged to wear a mask with high filtering properties and a face shield while working.
B) Face masks
Face masks are one of the leading personal protective equipment. Masks that are named as surgical masks cover the nose and mouth, but do not fit the face properly and are loose. A face mask that provides a one-sided protection also ensures to prevent out-coming body fluid and to hold germs. Yet, respirators fit perfectly and do not leak, and their filter retention rate is very high. Respirators without valves provide double-sided protection, since they filter the incoming and outgoing air.
a disposable b half face c full face
a with valve b without valve
C) Face shields
Protective face shields are simple devices that completely protect the face, including eyes, nose and mouth. Face shields consist of a cap that can be printed with 3D printers and a transparent layer attached to this cap. Considering its plain design, it is accessible to print with 3D devices. In addition, due to PPE limitation during the pandemic process, Prusa Research and some companies shared their face visor designs to be printed with a 3D printer for free.
D) Auxiliary accessories
These accessories are ear savers or mask extenders that increase mask wearing comfort. Polylactic thermoplastic was used for the mask extender and was printed with a 3D desktop-type font. These accessories can be made of many different materials and production can be carried out quickly due to their easy design.
The swab is placed in the nasopharynx and poured several times to collect material. After this process, it is placed in a bottle, and the head part is separated from the breaking point on the rod. The bottle is sealed and sent for testing.
The increasing number of diagnosed people steadily and the need for more tests to distinguish the diseased ones increase the need of NP swabs. Although swab manufacture was tried to increase to meet the need, adequate production could not be achieved during the pandemic period with existing production methods.
F) Ventilator devices
Ventilators are imperative devices for severe patients suffering from COVID-19 . COVID-19 leads to fibrosis in the lungs of patients and this situation causes patients to have difficulty breathing. In patients who have difficulty breathing, the sufficient amount of oxygen cannot be conveyed in the blood and carbon dioxide cannot be removed as required. Ventilator devices are required to regulate the breathing processes of patients. As a result of the sudden increase in the number of patients at hospitals and in intensive care units, the demand for ventilators worldwide has increased at a time, and almost all hospitals have inadequate number of ventilators.
It was also thought that another way to overcome ventilator distress could be to design and produce separator inserts that allow the use of a single ventilator for more than one patient. 3D-printed dividers that allow a single ventilator to be used for multiple patients. In this study, 2-port or 4-port splitters were printed. Nevertheless, it has been noted that it is unlikely to reach the same percentage in ventilation, since the healing process of patients with multiple use will be different.
Valves are parts that are connected to the patient’s mask in order to ensure that oxygen is delivered from ventilators to patients at constant concentration . These parts have to be patient-specific and replaced in devices after each use. As a result of the increase in the number of patients and the constant arrival of new patients, there are not enough valves in hospitals. In order to overcome this problem, research and studies have been carried out on the production of valves by 3D printing method .
Benefits of 3d printing in medical applications
Customization and Personalization
The greatest advantage that 3D printers provide in medical applications is the freedom to produce custom-made medical products and equipment
Due to the individualized nature of healthcare, 3D printing is a perfect solution for this industry. As opposed to fabricate a large number of identical parts, 3D printing empowers the creation of prosthetic and orthotic devices custom fitted to a patient’s particular anatomy.
To process to make new tools can be long and costly. Even when it’s created in-house or outsourced. Within critical situations, the long lead time can literally be live threatening. 3D printing in healthcare provides designers and engineers the tools to rapidly make and iterate designs.
Next to faster prototyping, the communication can be more effectively when using realistic prototypes. An essential part of the success of any medical device is the feedback from doctors and patients. Combined with the speed these design improvements can be implemented. The 3D printer is so accurate that the custom parts can be designed and sent to print in very little time. Within a matter of hours it is possible to iterate the design of a medical tool based on direct feedback from the surgeon. Who will use it and print a new model for assessment in no time at all.
Creating custom parts and devices requires a significant amount of detail. When the process is completed manually, there is a risk of human error and this could set projects back in terms of cost and time. However, 3D printing has enabled doctors to make several iterations before it is printed, helping them to identify any potential errors, ensuring that the final product is perfect.
In addition to the capacity to make custom, complex parts, 3D printing in healthcare is most appropriate for low volume production meaning costs will drop while effectiveness increases.
Due to the application of some parts used in the medical industry, sterilizable is an important material property. 3D printing knows a lot of materials that are strong, lightweight and sterilizable with PEEK and Ultem being the most appropriate.
Where before, conventional manufacturing may have struggled to create complex, organic shapes, the designs that 3D printers are now able to produce are potentially limitless. New composites and hybrid plastics make it possible to create body parts that have improved strength and are lightweight. Through selecting the correct materials and combining them with designs that are completely accurate and precise, the patients benefit from an enhanced quality, comfort and freedom.
The Future of 3D Printing in Healthcare
The future of medicine certainly contains 3D printers. Whether medical professionals are using them to help students practice and research new treatments and procedures, or patients are receiving new organs and prosthetics, 3D printing has hundreds of possible applications.
Care delivery: Centralized digital centers for continuous clinical monitoring and the use of portable devices in acute care.
Patient experience: Improvements through digital and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies
Talent development: Use of robotic process automation and AI to reduce documentation time, allowing caregivers to have more time for providing care and improving their skills
Operational efficiencies: Driven by next-gen interoperability, automation, and robotics
Connected healthcare: Consumer-held EHRs and personalized health IoT, wearable, and implants
Hybrid workforce: Closer integration of humans, AI and robotics, rise of medical robots, drones, and autonomous vehicles
Enhancements: AR- and VR-based education and treatment, 3D-printed organs, implants, and medical devices.